Friday, April 13, 2007

Christopher Morley's Bookshop Novels

Bibliophiles who have not read Christopher Morley's nostalgic novels "Parnassus on Wheels", and its sequel, "The Haunted Bookshop", are in for a delectable reading session. The books, originally published in the 1910s, are stuffed with book references, the smell of leather bindings and eccentric bookshop owners and customers. My grandmother had these two wonderful, well-read books on her bookshelves so I was fortunate to get my inoculation early on. She even took me to see Morley's transplanted writing studio, the Knothole, which is in Christopher Morley Park in North Hills, Long Island, New York.

"Parnassus on Wheels" follows the balding red-headed bookshop sprite Roger Mifflin as he travels with his horse Pegasus in his bookmobile throughout the New England and New York countryside. He eventually finds true love with fair farmer Helen and settles down in the successive volume to open up "The Haunted Bookshop" in a Brooklyn brownstone. There he smokes his constant pipe, pets his dog Bocaccio and in between customers, trains a young assistant, Titania, in the ways of the old-fashioned bookstore. The plot involves some romance and a bit of international terrorism (this book was written between the World Wars), but it is the biblio filler that make the book a perennial favorite. There are many bookstores past and present who are named in honor of the two book titles.

The Haunted Bookshop greets its customers with a framed placard that explains the shop:

THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts
Of all great literature, in hosts;
We sell no fakes or trashes.
Lovers of books are welcome here,
No clerks will babble in your ear,
Please smoke--but don't drop ashes!

Browse as long as you like.
Prices of all books plainly marked.
If you want to ask questions, you'll find the proprietor
where the tobacco smoke is thickest.
We pay cash for books.
We have what you want, though you may not know you want it.

Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing.
Let us prescribe for you.
By R. & H. MIFFLIN, Proprs.

These books remain in-print and are also readily available from your local used bookstore and on the Internet. The nicest editions are the hardcover reprints charmingly illustrated by Douglas Gorsline in the 1940s. I know you'll enjoy your reading.

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